The Board of Education announced the retirement of Superintendent Dr. David Abbey this morning, effective at the end of the school year in 2012. Abbey has worked in the New Canaan Public School District for the better part of 20 years since he was the special education director in 1987.

"I think he is one of the finest public servants that has ever graced our town," Board of Education Chairman and Selectman candidate Nick Williams said. "I think we're all aware of his incredible success in guiding New Canaan to the upper echelon of public school districts both nationally and locally as evidence through our test scores, college acceptances and success on the stage and on the playing field."

Many of Abbey's initiatives as superintendent include all-day kindergarten, Chinese language studies, expansion of the visual and performing arts, FLES (Foreign Language in the Elementary Schools), and the expanded use of technology through smart boards and many other programs.

However, more so than his professional accomplishments, Williams said he will miss the man behind the administrator.

"What I'm constantly struck by is the level of care and compassion that he brings to the job of superintendent. He always puts our students first regardless of the situation, whether it is physical safety, the emotional well being or their educational well being," Williams said. "He is great a guy. It will not be easy finding a replacement for David."

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Future First Selectman Rob Mallozzi echoed Williams' sentiments.

"I have enjoyed my work with Dr. David Abbey. I just thought the world of him," Mallozzi said. "It will be a great loss of him leaving but at the same time I look forward to be part of the group that looks at our next superintendent. We want to make sure we look all over and find the best person for the district but Dr. Abbey has set the bar incredibly high. He will be missed greatly."

Williams said Abbey had let the Board of Education know about his intentions a long time ago allowing them to get organized and ready for the next hiring process.

"Dr. Abbey was kind enough to clue us in very early on. It was not a shock," Williams said. "As such, the board has been working on developing a plan and process to identify David's successor."

The first part of that process will be to select the right executive search firm to assist the board in the ultimate hiring of Abbey's successor, Williams said. The same process was used to find and hire Dr. Luizzi, Tony Pavia's replacement at the high school. The board will also interview Dr. Abbey to get his thoughts on the position and what is required from the role. But eventually, it will be the Board of education that makes the final decision.

"There will be a search committee comprised of some if not all of the Board of Education and it will be supplemented by additional members of the community. Ultimately, that search committee will identify the candidates," Williams said.

As far as searching, Williams said they will not limit themselves to just searching in and around New England. Part of the reason they use a search firm is to make sure they can highlight candidates from all over the country.

"We are going to look nationally. That is not to say we will end up with a superintendent from California but it is not say we will end up with one from Connecticut either," Williams said. "We are not going to limit ourselves. We want to make sure we get the absolute perfect candidates for the job because we think we have the best district in the country and we need a superintendent, like Dr. Abbey, that is equal to that reputation."

As for Dr. Abbey himself, he felt it was the right time in his life and [retirement] was something he had been pondering for a long time now.

"I shared my intentions with the board about 16 months ago last June as part of our annual review," Abbey said.

It was during this time that former New Canaan High School Principal Tony Pavia and Director of Finance and Operations Dr. Michael Lagas had announced their intentions to retire. So Abbey stayed on a little while longer to keep some consistency with the district.

"I wanted to help with that transition," Abbey said. I didn't feel that losing three members of senior leadership at the same time would be good for the district."

Another reason Abbey decided the end of this school year would be appropriate for him had to do with his family life.

"It had a lot to do with where my family is right now. I have two children and my younger is son is graduating from college this year," he added. "When I do retire I will be a couple of months shy of 64 and I'll finally be able to take a real vacation."

Still, leaving a place he has been a part of for nearly 20 years is never easy.

"It's very emotional. I've loved working for the community. It is a great community to work for. I've had the privilege to do a number of things on the administrator level. It has afforded me the opportunity to meet so many extraordinary people from students, parents, faculty, members of the community and town government," Abbey said. "It's been a real thrill."